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  • International Women Online Journal of Distance Education

    July, 2015 Volume: 4 Issue: 3 Article: 03 ISSN: 2147-0367

    24

    Copyright © International Women Online Journal of Distance Education / www.wojde.org

    THE STATUS OF INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH: For Women But Not For-Profits?

    Gail D. CARUTH, Ed.D.

    Adjunct Faculty Department of Educational Leadership

    Texas A&M University, USA ABSTRACT

    College and university administrators have been under increased pressured to explain how campus operations support student enrollment and the cost of higher education.

    Administrators have consequently been moving toward a data-informed decision process

    and have begun working in partnership with institutional research for decision support.

    The purpose of this paper was to examine the literature to determine the status of IR in higher education. This examination is important to higher education for meeting the

    increased pressure and demands for accountability from those it serves. The escalating amount of data and the capability for comparing data is unparalleled.

    Consequently the role of institutional research has been evolving since its inception as a distinct function in higher education for over 50 years and varies from institution to

    institution globally. However, the fundamental role of gathering, examining, and distributing data for planning, policy formulation, and decision support has remained

    consistent. Research has revealed two district findings about the evolution of IR

    professionals in the United States. First, women professionals in IR have grown from 25% to 62% (a 148% growth) in 30 years and second, only two percent of the IR

    professionals are from for-profit institutions.

    Keywords: Institutional research, characteristics of institutional research, history of institutional research, the role of institutional research.

    INTRODUCTION

    The academy has come under increased accountability. Colleges and universities have

    been pressured to explain how campus operations support student enrollment and the cost of higher education.

    Institutional research (IR) is answering these requests by presenting data supporting strategic decisions enabling administrators to assess the benefits of cost on classroom

    and non-classroom activities (Knight & Leimer, 2010; McLaughlin, McLaughlin, &

    Kennedy-Phillips, 2005; Middaugh, Kelly, & Walters, 2008; Trainer, 2008; Voorhees, 2008; Webber, 2012). The burgeoning amount of data and the capacity for comparative data

    available to IR and administrators is unparalleled. Undeniably, in this age of information and the Internet the academy is saturated with data, some helpful and some not so

    helpful (Trainer, 2008).

    The typical key performance indicators that have been useful in the past have also been

    inflexible for narrating the complete story and generating all the data necessitated by the multifaceted non-classroom activities of flourishing colleges and universities.

    Furthermore, the data needed to support strategic decisions may not be located in all institutional databases. Administrators are expected to demonstrate, for example, how

    expenses for non-classroom, non-athletic student activities contribute to successful

  • International Women Online Journal of Distance Education

    July, 2015 Volume: 4 Issue: 3 Article: 03 ISSN: 2147-0367

    25

    Copyright © International Women Online Journal of Distance Education / www.wojde.org

    learning processes or how they contribute to the overall success of academic programs

    (McLaughlin et al., 2005).

    As a result, college and university administrators that have been pressured to explain

    how campus operations support student enrollment and the cost of higher education have been moving toward a data-informed decision process. Administrators have begun

    working in partnership with IR for decision support. According to McLaughlin and

    Kennedy-Phillips (2005), college and university administrators who work in partnership with IR will be able to “sustain” (p. 3) the future of the academy.

    Moreover, colleges and universities that have organized and centralized their institutional

    data experience a benefit in strategic planning and decision making. At the core of support for decision making, accountability, planning, and demonstrating effectiveness to

    all internal and external stakeholders is the growing prominence and value of IR

    (Voorhees, 2008). Consequently, experts in the field of IR experience the value of the role in collecting, examining, and distributing data and converting data into necessary

    information for planning and decision making purposes (Voorhees).

    IR exists on a number of college and university campuses to create standard reports

    required by state, federal, and accreditation agencies. While this is an important role, the institution fails to take advantage of opportunities if generating reports continues to be

    the only role performed by the office of IR. According to Voorhees (2008), IR offices that consume the greater part of their time engaged in reporting generally experience minimal

    enthusiasm in attempts to discover new opportunities where their distinct expertise can

    be of benefit to their institutions.

    The purpose of this paper was to examine the literature to determine the status of IR in higher education. This examination is important to higher education for meeting the

    increased pressure and demands for accountability from those it serves. A review of the literature presents a compilation of research, peer-reviewed journals, and

    non-peer reviewed journals on IR. The academic databases used were from the online

    library of Texas A&M University-Commerce and included, but were not limited to, Academic Search Premier, EBSCO, Education Research Complete, Eric, ProQuest, and Sage

    Publications.

    The key descriptive terms used for this research were insitutional research,

    characteristics of institutional research, history of institutional research, and the role of institutional research.

    A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

    “What is IR? How old is IR? Why has IR been introduced in hundreds of universities

    globally?” (Chirikov, 2013, p. 457).

    IR, an important function for any college or university and referred to as “organizational

    intelligence” (Chirikov, 2013, p. 458), varies from institution to institution and its role in the institution continues to evolve over time. The station of IR in higher education

    typically depends on the location of the institution and is impacted by the governing

    bodies, students, technology, processes for decision making, the location of the office within the institution, among other factors (Chirikov, 2013; Sapp & Temares, 1996).

    Contemporary offices of IR are over 50 years old and entrenched in almost every college

    and university in the United States as well as many other institutions globally. Often

  • International Women Online Journal of Distance Education

    July, 2015 Volume: 4 Issue: 3 Article: 03 ISSN: 2147-0367

    26

    Copyright © International Women Online Journal of Distance Education / www.wojde.org

    working behind-the-scenes, IR supports administrators with campus-wide decision

    making and strategic planning. These decision making and strategic planning support

    functions include research support to senior academic leaders, admissions, financial aid, curriculum design, enrollment management, staffing, student life, finance, facilities,

    athletics, alumni relations, as well as many other programs. In addition to the support provided for data-informed decision making, institutional researchers utilize data for

    reporting and comparing with other institutions. In short, a majority of the important

    decisions made in the academy concerning programs and responsibilities are based on data created by IR (Association for Institutional Research, n.d.).

    THE EVOLUTION OF INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH

    The evolution of IR has faced numerous discrete and confusing questions of concern. First

    are questions of identity. IR does not have the benefit of a long history being a relatively

    new function in American higher education. Second are questions of organization.

    Recently there has been a focus of separation of IR from the institutional research of

    scholarship and publication functions.

    Third are questions of location and scope within the institutional structure. The location

    of IR within in the institutional structure affects the ability of IR to function effectively,

    influences the nature of IR activities, and shapes the decision support role.

    Fourth are questions of involvement in the assessment of student learning outcomes and

    institutional effectiveness processes. Some have suggested that IR should be involved significantly in the assessment of student learning outcomes and institutional

    effectiveness processes in spite of the fact that research reveals that this is not the case. This finding may be the result of limited resources of IR, as suggested by Sapp and

    Temares (1996).

    The United States is breaking new ground in the evolution of IR. Some researchers date

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